Exclusive: Business first, then security

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International Security Journal sits down with Malcolm Smith, CPP, the newly-elected 2022 President of ASIS International.

For professionals working within corporate security, the expectations placed on them by their employers have changed significantly in recent years. In days gone by, it used to be enough to solely focus on securing the people and assets within your facilities but that is no longer the case.

Being a member of a corporate security team is now also an opportunity to show how the security function can bring value to the organisation as a whole. Security professionals are expected to have a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the business they work for and be able to suggest ways in which security can help these objectives to be met.

ASIS International has been doing a fantastic job for a number of years to educate its members on the new expectations they are likely to face in their roles. The organisation’s 2022 President, Malcolm Smith began his year-long term in January at what is a pivotal time for ASIS as well as the wider industry.

International Security Journal sat down with Smith to learn more about his impressive career in the military and private security as well as how he aims to help ASIS evolve during his tenure.

50 years in security

There are not many security professionals who can claim to have collected as many years of experience as Malcolm Smith has. Smith was born in South Africa, served 18 years in the country’s military before embarking on a long and successful career in private security.

However, his first experience of security is a little different from the usual stories you hear. He revealed: “I like to tell the story that my security career actually started as a 12-year-old running my own apples and peanuts business at a local store in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a gangster territory and therefore I had to safeguard myself and my assets as I navigated my way home each night. I would say that’s where my career actually started.

“Since then, I have occupied many senior management roles across eight different sectors in a wide range of locations.”

Smith has always been keen to share his knowledge and expertise with his peers and has been a volunteer leader of ASIS International since 2006 and a member of the Global Board of Directors since 2017, before being elected as the organisation’s 2022 President.

Reflecting on his election, he said: “I see myself as bringing a global and African perspective to the table. I am really humbled and honoured to be elected as the 2022 President. It means a lot to me to be the first President from the African continent in the 67-year history of ASIS. I know there are a lot of responsibilities to take in, but I am looking forward to working with the Global Board, the Regional Boards, executive leadership team, volunteer leaders and members to reach the goals that we have set ourselves in 2022.”

When asked about his leadership philosophy, Smith responded: “I am perfectly imperfect and a continuous learner. I would describe my leadership style as direct but inclusive and collaborative. I tend to focus on the factors that are meaningful to the individuals before focusing on the team and the wider organisation. I provide guidance and inspiration to improve the team’s performance and behave with charisma, integrity, decisiveness and passion.”

A society of belonging

It is a particularly important year for ASIS International, with the organisation looking to continue to enhance its global footprint. Smith detailed the three key objectives he is aiming to achieve during his one-year term: “My first objective is to focus on the financial health of the association. The COVID pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but we have done well to navigate the storm so far and I’m going to make sure that we build on that to progress and ensure the sustained existence of ASIS for the next 66 years.

“The second focus will be our regional governance. I am pleased to say that we have made history by seating two Regional Boards, one in North America and one in Europe. I will be supporting both of these Boards throughout the year.

“Finally, my third objective is to create a society of belonging. I want to inspire leadership development which is linked to our continuing DE&I initiatives. I want to look at new and effective ways to further develop our approach to DE&I which is seeing a lot of positive results. ASIS has been on a DE&I journey for a number of years now and I want to build upon the great work that has already been done, not to mention giving a platform for our Young Professional and Women in Security Communities, respectively.”

Smith has a clear vision of how he would like the organisation to evolve, driven by the key lessons he has learned during his career in security. He said: “It is important to understand that it is business first, then security. I advocate security amongst our security professionals at ASIS, but I don’t talk security to whom it doesn’t matter. As an enterprise-first thinker, I have learned to offer business solutions, not security solutions. I align with the mission and strategy of my organisation and I find ways to help it succeed.”

He continued: “To me, security is about people. I have learned that security is a balancing act, it is continuously fluid and constantly changing. A business has a number of competing priorities and often, security gets overlooked. This encouraged me to become a qualified HR management consultant as well as a security professional. This perspective has helped me to develop the security function to become better at DE&I, organisational development and culture change.”

Joining the network

During this period of great change and evolution for the security industry, professionals are increasingly looking towards membership bodies such as ASIS International for advice and guidance. Smith explained what ASIS can offer to those that decide to join: “First thing, we are in the business of education. The pandemic has showcased the important role that ASIS has played in the lives of members across the globe. In fact, the number of ASIS certifications awarded in 2021 rose by more than 7%.

“We offer valuable education, networking news on the latest trends and above all, a sense of belonging. Our learning content is mobile, digital and agile. Our chapters deliver education opportunities at a local level, providing the chance to build relationships, engage ideas and share insider practice with your peers. At the global level, we have been quite intentional at showcasing diverse global insights that inform how we can do our jobs better.”

He added: “ASIS Career HQ provides professional advice for today’s workplace which helps members advance their careers. We also have subject area communities, which will help to broaden a member’s knowledge in the specific sector they are working in (e.g. banking, education or retail.)”

Smith concluded by projecting how the wider security landscape is likely to develop over the next 12 months: “Security functions will have to do more with less to keep organisations secure moving forwards. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on the future of work, with more employees sticking to working remotely. Security leaders need to understand these changes and be prepared to offer what the business needs. What really matters is knowing where the business is heading and how to help it reach its destination.”

Following such a long and distinguished career in security, it is clear that Malcolm Smith still holds a remarkable passion for advancing the industry and helping his fellow professionals. There is no doubt that his colleagues at ASIS International will feel the valuable benefits of his experience and know-how during his time as President.

For more information, visit: www.asisonline.org

This article was originally published in the February 2022 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital edition here.

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